Sequim School District directors appoint Halvorsen to board

Maren Halvorsen said she knows how critical public schools can be to smaller communities. Her graduating class in Burns, Ore., was about 90.

“Public schools also build community in ways that are important, especially in small towns,” she told Sequim School Board directors Monday night.

“As members of the school board, you are important as the link between the community and the school; you have your feet in both places.”

Halvorsen herself is now part of that link after board directors unanimously agreed to appoint the former history teacher to its five-member board.

The board’s vote ends a months-long vacancy stemming from director candidate Kristi Schmeck’s resignation despite being elected to the seat. Schmeck attempted to drop out of the race after filing in May 2021 but her name stayed on the ballot, and she received the most votes in both primary and general elections later in the year.

The district received eight applications for the open position, trimmed that list to five, and two of those finalists — Kenneth Jennings Jr. and Sharon Schubert — dropped out before the scheduled Feb. 7 interviews.

Board directors held open interviews with Halvorsen, Jill Hay and Susanne Scott late Monday afternoon before selecting Halvorsen.

“All the candidates were just so well prepared. They all brought a wealth of experience, a real enthusiasm for students a real heart for teachers,” board vice president Patrice Johnston said. “The comments were insightful and courageous. I just heard so many great things.

“I think (Halvorsen) will bring a real rigor and … enthusiasm for students.”

Halvorsen will be eligible to serve for another 20 months before her position and three others are up for election: board president Eric Pickens and directors Larry Jeffryes and Jim Stoffer.

In an application for the open position, Halvorsen said, “I have solid administrative experience, work collaboratively, and have experience with staff recruitment and retention. I care deeply about students, schools, and parents, and would like an opportunity to serve the community of Sequim.”

On Monday, she identified three key areas for the board to consider: attracting and retaining experienced, quality teachers; establishing a safe campus for students, and up-to-date curriculum, textbooks and other materials.

She said the COVID pandemic laid bare some inequities for some students, particularly when it comes to technology access, that should be addressed.

“When know our students have struggled and struggling still but we know they can be successful,” Halvorsen said. “They put one foot in front of the other and came back to school.”

Seeking a super

Halvorsen joins a board in the process of selecting a permanent superintendent. The district is working with Hank Harris of Human Capital Enterprises to fill the district’s lead administer role to be filled for the start of the 2022-2023 school year.

Board directors in mid-January agreed to a timeline for the superintendent search. Candidate documents will be reviewed Feb. 11-14, with initial interviews scheduled for Feb. 25, followed by community stakeholder group interviews March 10.

Directors are slated to interview finalists on March 12 and identify their preferred candidates the following day.

By late March, the district expects to name its new superintendent, who will start July 1.

The vacancy was posted on several professional websites in Dec. 17, school officials said.

Board directors in mid-December hired Joan Zook, a Sequim resident and former superintendent of schools for the Shelton School District, to serve as interim superintendent. Prior to her hire, Jane Pryne was interim superintendent for the previous 13 months, before resigning the position in late 2021.

In her Monday interview, Halvorsen said she would like to see the district “stabilize” its administration with its next pick of superintendent.

Among the traits she’d like to see in the district’s next top administrator, Halvorsen said “transparency and discretion, someone who is collaborative” is key, and someone who is respectful of school staff.

Other candidates

Hay, who moved to Sequim a little more than 20 years ago, said addressing the impacts of the pandemic are the most important thing the district needs to handle. She encouraged the district to hire an intervention expert to support where there has been the most educational losses and to consider hosting science, technology, engineering, art and mathematics (STEAM) camps to help recover those losses.

She spent the last 10 years of her career as a professional development staffer for educators.

“I know that learning does not occur overnight for everyone,” Hay said.

She said the board should consider a long-term commitment to bolstering professional development for its staff.

Scott said public schools are “an integral part of our community” in her Monday interview.

“I am a believer that education is a game changer,” she said.

Scott echoed Hay’s sentiments that the needs brought forth by the pandemic need to be addressed first. Flexibility is key for local districts, she said, in addressing those needs.